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Visited Pittsburgh for a weekend - trip report

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  • timeo Jan 3, 2014 10:11 AM
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Went down to Pittsburgh from Toronto for the last weekend of the year. We've heard it's cool. It was cool. In chronological order of meals:

Fri dinner: Tram's Kitchen
Fri 2nd dinner: Franktuary
Sat breakfast: Pamela's Diner
Sat dinner: Salt of the Earth
Sat 2nd dinner: Tram's Kitchen
Sun breakfast: La Gourmandine
Sun lunch: Union Pig & Chicken
Sun dinner: Nicky's Thai Kitchen
Mon lunch: Kaya

By far the standout meal was Salt of the Earth, where afterwards, the mere mention of pork made me salivate uncontrollably. Definitely the best pork tenderloin I had in 2013. Unfortunately, the rest of the meals we had were only okay to good (but not great) but the excellent beer and friendly locals made up for it all.

FRIDAY
My friend and I arrived in Pittsburgh after a long drive, ready to knock back some cold IPAs and get some pub grub. Instead, our guest house directed us to Tram's, solemnly declaring it to be the best restaurant in Pittsburgh. We get some decent Vietnamese in the T-Dot but we went with the recommendation anyways since we're always interested in the immigrant experience in other cities (being children of immigrants ourselves). We each got one fresh spring roll (#2, $2) which we both felt were delicious and packed a lot in for its size. My friend ordered the Special Vermicelli (#16, $9). Good bún (not too thick or clumpy) but the chef clearly loves fish sauce - the dish was practically swimming in it. I got the Pho Hanoi (#15, $9). Light and flavourful soup. Somewhat busy on Friday night but our waiter was friendly and helpful ("Ah, yes, you have never been here before! I would recognise you! Let me suggest some dishes..."). Second dinner because we hadn't had lunch and were still hungry after Tram's happened at Franktuary. I ordered the Underdog (NZ grass-fed beef) with sauerkraut ($4.5) while my friend got the Underdog Texan-style ($5.5). The hot dogs themselves were decent, but the bun was sadly untoasted. We both agreed that we prefer the street hot dogs at home where it is toasted and the meat charcoal grilled over a flame, thus ensuring oily goodness. Good beer selection at Franktuary, and hip casual atmosphere at the next-door Round Corner Cantina.

SATURDAY
We headed off to DeLuca's for breakfast and some post-meal strolling in the Strip, but after getting there at 10AM, were stunned to see a pretty long line running along Penn Avenue waiting to get in. The line at the nearby Pamela's was no better. Since we didn't have enough time to wait (we had to get to Fallingwater for an afternoon tour), I just got a coffee at La Prima Espresso at 21st/Penn. Thought La Prima would be one of those third-wave coffee places but it was more of a traditional Italian watering hole which was neat since I don't see those very often. Really busy and nice lively atmosphere, though my latte didn't seem particularly extraordinary? It looked like the biscottis were a must-get since everyone else had one, but I was saving my appetite for something more substantial. The market building farther north on Penn Avenue had some cute shops including a rather enticing booth by East End Brewery. We headed off to Pamela's in Oakland since we figured it was kind of on the way to Fallingwater and also because it would probably be less busy than the Strip branch, and were rewarded for our faith with an immediate seating. My friend and I split our breakfast - she got the The Morning After Breakfast Special with the Chocolate Chip Banana Hotcakes ($10), and I got the Ham & Cheese Omelette. ($7) Both delicious - especially enjoyed the omelette and the hotcakes which were thin and crispy compared to the thicker regular-style American pancake. Comparatively ungreasy for a diner which was nice. Big portions too! After FW (which was BEAUTIFUL), we got back to the City and arrived at Salt of the Earth for our 6PM seating. This was by far the best meal we had. We started off with the waitress-recommended beets dish which came with furikake and beet chips ($11). Good, but not mindblowing. The pork main however was incredible ($28). The meat was really tender with a good ratio of fat to meat. Dressed with carrots, spaetzle (really nicely done too, slightly crispy!), mustard sauce, and just overall a very satisfying dish. My friend got the black bass which was also excellent ($29), though we both preferred the pork. We shared a persimmon ice cream with panna cotta dessert ($9) which I thought should have been a little sweeter, but which she thought was just right. Since she wasn't full (there are two pork pieces vs the one fish filet), we ended up at Tram's again for 2nd dinner. I tried the Saigon Soup Noodles (#10, $8) which came with a fried wonton, shrimp, and pork slices. I'm not a fan of celery so it was a little annoying that the soup was liberally doused with it. Prefer the Pho Hanoi that I got the night before. She got the Mixed Vermicelli with Coconut Milk (#17, $9) which I didn't try. We ended the evening with visits to Sharp Edge Emporium (low-key neighbourhood joint with friendly locals, thanks for getting our tab complete stranger!), Church Brew Works (great space, questionable beer, though the RPA is good), and Remedy (shame about the indoor smoking, but awesome bar, cheap prices, great microbrews, hilarious second floor dancefloor).

SUNDAY
Wanted a less heavy breakfast after Pamela's, and went to La Gourmandine at the suggestion of a friend. Great smell as we entered the place. Wanted to like it, but the pastry I got was rather unremarkable and the almond croissant that my friend got was no better. La Prima coffee was okay. Sweet ladies. After a hilariously long tour at the Cathedral of Learning (the Lithuanian and German rooms were baller), we went over to Union Pig & Kitchen for lunch. We got a 1/2 chicken ($12), 1/2lb brisket ($14), mac&cheese ($4), and collard greens ($4). Lots and lots of food for two people! The brisket had a nice sweet outer taste to it and was moist. Fried chicken was also moist. Didn't have a favourite, though I think my friend liked the brisket more. Sides were done well. Solid meal. Seating and dining area reminded me of Wurstkuche in LA - could be really hip and cool at night when it gets full, though UP&C is all assigned seating unlike Wurstkuche. After checking out Mt. Washington and the inclines (what a view!), we went to Nicky's Thai Kitchen in downtown. I got their Spicy Noodles aka pad kee maow ($12) while the friend got the Green Jungle Curry with chicken ($13) - both medium heat. Spicier than I expected, which was nice. My ho fun noodles had very good 'wok hai' as characteristic of all good stir fried dishes - ate that up quick even though the serving portion was massive! Friend didn't really like her curry all that much, which did seem a little overly sweet for my taste as well. Good service here in terms of refilling of water. Abstained from appetizers and desserts because we went down to East Carson St. for an attempted pub crawl. Unfortunately, we couldn't seem to find a single bar that didn't have a damn TV with a sports game on, so we eventually settled on Fats Head Saloon which I'd heard was good. Pleasantly surprised that they had Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout and Founders Double Trouble DIPA on tap. Didn't eat anything there, which I'm glad since the people beside us ordered a giant plate of heart-stopping poutine-like decadence that made me feel fat even just by looking at it. The area wasn't really our scene though since it felt way too fratty and bro-y, so we went back to Lawrenceville for quieter drinks at New Amsterdam (really friendly bartenders and chill place), and Remedy (a lot quieter on Sunday night now).

MONDAY
We had originally wanted to have Yo-Rita on Sunday night and then go to Nicky's on Monday for lunch, but the fact that Yo-Rita is closed on Sundays meant that we had to choose something else. We ended up at Kaya in the Strip, which was okay but not anything memorable. I got the Jamaican Green Curry Vegetables with a side of jerk chicken ($15), and the friend got the Tropical Paella ($13). I felt like the jerk chicken didn't taste anything like jerk chicken, but was more like just grilled chicken served over curried vegetables and rice. It wasn't bad, but it didn't feel particularly Jamaican in any way. The curry vegetables were also not spicy and were possibly a little too acidic for me as well. The friend's paella was better, though she didn't think it was noteworthy either. Nice waitress and interesting eclectic interior design.

Anyways, just wanted to report on our time in Pittsburgh and the hits and misses we had in the city! Thanks for the recommendations everyone!

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  1. Thanks for the great review! I really like hearing about peoples experiences when they come to town.

    http://burghfeeding.blogspot.com/

    1. Thanks for the report! We are relatively new to Pittsburgh and I like to hear about other's experiences, especially those that come from other urban areas. I have found Pittsburgh's Asian ethnic to be somewhat unremarkable, but have never tried Tram's (or the Golden Pig, which is supposed to be awesome Korean but is in the middle of nowhere.).

      Your third wave coffee place in the Strip is 21st St Coffee on Smallman, not far from Kaya (which I also agree is unremarkable.)

      The East End stand at the Market is great, the usual bartender is great fun and all beers are $1 which encourages tasting :-). Not a fan of Churchworks beer but the space is pretty cool. Our favorite local breweries are Helltown, East End and Full Pint.

      Too bad you missed Yo Rita, it's one of our favorites. So you'll have to come back. BTW, we LOVED Toronto, haven't been for a while and need to get back. It's a beautiful city!

      1. I'm a little late seeing this, but my 2 cents worth. The two places where you ate that would be mentioned on any list of where to eat in Pittsburgh are Pamela's Diner for breakfast and Salt of the Earth. The rest wouldn't make the list. Sorry you did not do better.

        When we're up in your wine country, we always stop at Lakehouse in Vineland.

        1. FYI, Yo Rita has closed.

          1 Reply
          1. re: dmjordan

            Sorry to hear this. Wouldn't be an every day place, but it was fun for it's creativity.